Daytona Prototypes - NASCAR Turned Right?
© Andrew S. Hartwell
By now probably everyone with an interest in sportscar racing has heard the announcements from the Grand American Road Racing Association (Grand-Am, a part of the NASCAR business-family) about the new "Daytona Prototypes". These are to be flat-bottomed
coupes running 6 or 8 cylinder engines. Initial drawings of some of the cars to come are somewhat reminiscent of the Ford GT40 MKIV, the Porsche 962, and others of that ilk. Some of the designs are very interesting indeed. The Brumos-FABCAR Porsche is a knockout!
The question on most minds is simply this: What will the Daytona prototypes mean to sportscar racing? Will what has been proposed change the very definition of sportscar racing? Will it create another branch on an already limb-loaded tree? Surely no one can say with certainty, and many are prone to take guesses, but what could it really mean? Being a fan of road racing, I wondered myself, and so I thought I might take a close look at what is known and see if it somehow suggests answers to the unknown.
What is known is that the cars are theoretically designed to be somewhat equal in terms of potential. Of course, there is no equality anywhere in the world someone or something always occupies a higher state of recognition or reward so why should it be expected that equality would exist because a rulebook says it will be so? If that were all it took, rulebooks would become bibles preaching a religion for all to observe. And if that happened, how would you get everyone in the same church at one time anyway? And who amongst any flock hasn't tried to bend the rules of whatever scripture by just a bit? Some 'sinners' might even say that it's good to be bad.
But bad isn't good for business. NASCAR is a business. Sportscar racing has never really been a business. They don't call it sportscar racing for nothing.
It's kind of funny when you think about it. The people who populated the history of sportscar racing were often businessmen who didn't let the lack of potential for profit stop them from investing in the sport. Yet in stock car racing, people who didn't really have a lot of money took what they did have plenty of sweat equity and invested that to build a business. That business became what we know today as NASCAR racing.
And everyone knows what NASCAR is. Because the France family treated the sport like a business, they made sure everyone knew what NASCAR was through heavy promotional activities and 'product integrity'. I think the reason precious few know what sportscar racing is because the sportsmen weren't looking to build it as a business. They just wanted to race. The view of all those exposed (read: empty) seats at Daytona International Speedway during the 40th anniversary of the Rolex 24 hours made it as clear as it has ever been that sportscar racing is - forgive me - nobodies business. For the Daytona 500 NASCAR race that followed a few weeks later, those same seats were full. The Daytona Prototypes might be what the France family feels is needed to fill those empty seats in early February.
The Daytona Prototypes series will probably become known to the masses simply as "Daytona Racing'". That quickly brings two of the key identifiers (brand names) over from NASCAR Daytona and Racing allowing the new organization to be carried along in their slipstream.
If I were to gaze into a working crystal ball I think I might see the France family signing a network television deal to broadcast Daytona "Racing" right alongside NASCAR "Racin'", with the 'G' standing for gold, as in the France family may be about ready to strike it again.
Why do I think that? I guess it is because this 'new' approach to sportscar racing is really the tried and true NASCAR formula. That is, make up a race series with cars that sort of look like cars on the street, make them follow rules designed to keep all the parishioners in the pews and out of the confessional, and then sit back and count the money coming in. And heck, anyone who don't like it can just go to that other four letter place way south of Daytona; No, not the ALMS, the hotter place with all the flickering flames and lost souls.
The other reason I think the France family is on to something here is that they can take this sportscar-derived 'product' without a buyer (correction: enough buyers) and find a market for it. Let's be honest, ask 100 people to tell you about "racing" and 99 will mention Daytona, NASCAR, or Dale Earnhardt. The other guy is really a statistical nobody, as "he" will offer up "drag racing", "modifieds", and possibly "sports cars" in answer to the question. You can't build a big business dependant upon less than 1% of the potential audience. So why not take a different tack and build a bigger audience? I think that is what NASCAR / Grand Am is looking to do.
But again the question remains; will it be sportscar racing?
Well, it seems that several sportscar chassis builders feel the time to jump on the bandwagon is now. Crawford, Doran, Multimatic, Pilbeam, Riley & Scott, Tampolli, FABCAR and G&W Motorsports have all said they will build or race Daytona Prototypes. And they are all businesses, not wealthy sportsmen out to race for the pleasure and excitement. They race to win, so they can sell their chassis to the sportsmen.
And many of the sportsmen will probably go Daytona Racing. Including sportsmen who are also businessmen, like Jim Downing, who may have summed this whole new approach to racing best when he said, "I like the general concept. We need to do something different in this country."
The "general concept" of Daytona Racing will be "something different". And its roots are definitely American. So I guess what it will be then is "American" sportscar racing?
David Klym at FABCAR thinks Daytona Racing was a future event just looking for a date on a calendar. "This is how we should have done sports car racing a long time ago . . ."
But then, it wouldn't have been sportscar racing. Would it?